Was There Really Friction Between The Two Stars Of Steptoe And Son?

The Curse Of Steptoe, 2008

Broadcast in 2008, as part of a BBC4 series of programs under “The Curse Of Comedy” umbrella.  The drama won widespread acclaim winning the Royal Television Society Award 2008 for “Single Drama”.  It also achieved BBC4’s highest audience ratings to that date at 1.41 million.  Reviews were unanamous in their praise for the drama, all seemed well until….

Following the broadcast, Harry H. Corbett’s nephew from his second marriage released a statement which claimed the drama was inaccurate and defamatory.  There were claims of “numerous factual errors” in addition, he claimed that the two actors did not hate each other, and that the suggestion that Steptoe ruined either actor’s career was nonsense.

Indeed writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, quickly distanced themselves from the drama.  They wrote a letter to The Times that was published before the show was broadcast, it stated “during this entire 12 year period we were unaware of any conflict between the actors, save from the occasional gritting of Wilfrid’s false teeth when Harry had the perceived audacity to give him a little direction. At all other times they were the acme of professionalism”  In a radio interview on 15 January 2009, Alan Simpson stated that the drama was “not at all accurate”, while Ray Galton claimed, “We didn’t recognise any of that. Really didn’t”. Both agreed that any notion of friction or hatred between Corbett and Brambell was inaccurate, stating, “They worked beautifully together”

Complaints were all upheld by the BBC and subsequently the show was edited and re-broadcast on 28th December 2008.  Things were still inaccurate: this time it was the relationship between Corbett and his first wife.  A further re-revised broadcast was made on 2nd December 2009.

On 22 December 2010, the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee upheld a further appeal by Corbett’s brother-in-law. The ruling stated that the revised portrayal in The Curse of Steptoe was still “unfair and inaccurate”, and “despite the edits made, further action was required by the BBC to remove the impression of a casual relationship between Maureen and Harry”.  The BBC Trust subsequently ordered that DVDs of the drama should be recalled.

As a result of the inaccuracies the drama is no longer available on DVD or likely to be repeated.  The relationship between the two actors has for many years been the subject of much speculation, with many friends and colleagues stating the rumours are just that rumours and if they had been true the actors could have halted things at any point.

However contraversial and inaccurate the drama may have been it was hugely popular and shows just how popular Steptoe and Son is even today, some forty years after it’s final broadcast.  It’s popularity is a great tribute to both writers and the actors themselves.  In fact Harry H. Corbett went on to appear in several films in the late 70’s as well as contining his TV work starring alongside Richard Beckinsale in ITV’s hit sitcom ‘The Lovers’ and alongside Arthur Lowe in ‘Potter’.


This summary is based on the drama as broadcast and in NO WAY is intended to be related to fact, which as we have seen has proved to be inaccurate in some important parts.

Drama covering the entire history of the hugely popular Steptoe and Son, skipping over the five-year break between 1965 and 1970 when no episodes were recorded.

Harry H. Corbett, is a rising Shakespearean actor, starring as Richard II at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, looking beyond that to Henry V at the Old Vic, and tipped for great success.

Meanwhile, across town at the BBC Television Centre, writers Galton and Simpson have parted from their longtime star, Tony Hancock, and are given a free hand. They write a series of one-off plays starring actors, not comics who will expect every line to contain a laugh.

One of these ‘The Offer’ is flagged up by BBC head of comedy Tom Sloan as a possible series.  The writers refuse stating that the agreement was for one offs.  After much persuasion they eventually agree to write a full series.  It becomes a huge hit with audiences.

The drama depicts the uneasy relationship between the two actors and infers that such was the success of the show it finished the careers of the two actors.


No clips exist for the reasons given, here are some stills


Roger Allam as Tom Sloan
Jason Isaacs as Harry H. Corbett
Zoë Tapper as Sheila Steafel
Clare Higgins as Joan Littlewood
Elspeth Rae as Young Blonde Actress
Burn Gorman as Ray Galton
Rory Kinnear as Alan Simpson
Phil Davis as Wilfrid Brambell
Ken Oxtoby as Costume Designer
Ben Parr as Wilfrid’s Young Blonde Man
Peter Hamilton-Dyer as Director
Sophie Hunter as Maureen Corbett
Julian Forsyth as Clive Goodwin
Jamie Lennox as Plain Clothes Policeman
Scott McNess as Boy Outside Theatre
Buddy Wallis as Harry’s Son


Channel: BBC4
Written By: Brian Fillis
Original Transmission Dates:

19 March 2008    21:00    BBC Four    66 min 44 sec    Original release
20 March 2008    00:05    BBC Four    66 min 44 sec    Repeat
21 March 2008    22:00    BBC Four    66 min 44 sec    Repeat
23 March 2008    22:45    BBC Four    66 min 44 sec    Repeat
28 December 2008    22:30    BBC Four    66 min 21 sec    Revised repeat
29 December 2008    03:40    BBC Four    66 min 21 sec    Revised repeat
2 December 2009    22:00    BBC HD    65 min 35 sec    Re-revised repeat

Writers Galton and Simpson discuss how it all began

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